Interview: Danny Choo

by Gia Manry,

Anime News Network: You are currently making the remarkable jump from anime blogger to anime producer.

Danny Choo: Yes.

Can you talk a bit about that transition?

The anime title Chinka started off as an April Fools joke. I came across some folks who had this anime concept and they hadn't really done anything with it. They said, "hey Danny, do you think you can please show these girls the light?" talking about the girls in the anime title. So I said "okay, let's do an April Fools joke", and I announced it and lots of people started to talk about it all over the world-- including Anime News Network, thank you very much --and then it got to a certain point where it received so much of a warm welcome that we decided we just had to go ahead and produce the title, basically. So at the moment...with anime it's always difficult to-- it may sound greedy --but we need to make a profit from the amount of money we put into production. So the sales of DVDs and Blu-Rays are pretty much nonexistant. So what many anime manufacturers are trying to do is to focus on the licensing, basically. So that's what we're going to do, and it's most probably going to be out sometime next year. It is going to take a while to put together. But making an anime...I mean, I love anime, it's been a dream for me to work on something like this and to have my own mascot character in an anime title as well. So yes, very exciting times.

Where did the concept come into being - why firefighters?

The firefighting actually came my friend, he and a group of other folks, they came up with the whole story and concept, and I gave some input along the way. They got together one day at a yakiniku restaurant, which is where you cook your own meat, and they came up with the concept there and then. And it could be because of watching the meat catch fire or something, I don't know. I haven't spoken to them that deeply about the concept! But it is certainly something very different to what I've seen in current anime at the moment. And there's a lot of history to Chinka, because a person goes around setting fire, and her name is Akaneko. A long time ago in the Edo period there was actually a character called Akaneko who went around setting fires, so it's actually based on that history. And the town is modern-day Japan but with very old-fashioned buildings, so it's like a little town from the Edo period.

You talked about making your money back on Chinka. Would it be safe to assume, given your own propensity towards figures, that there will be figures and other merchandise for the series?

Definitely, definitely, yes. There will be a range of figures and most probably dolls like this one as well. [Gesturing to a ball-joined doll (BJD) of mascot character Mirai-chan]

The people who came up with Chinka, these friends of yours, do they work at your company, Mirai Fusion?

No they're not, no. Basically there's a group called Hibuse, and most of the folks-- I think many anime titles, folks who work on the productions, they have their own, other full-time jobs. And they work on the anime titles part-time, basically. So there are a lot of people involved, TV producers and commercial producers, and they'll continue to do their own jobs and they'll continue to work on Chinka at the same time.

Can you talk more about Mirai Fusion? Are you producing any animation in-house?

Mirai Fusion is not a huge company, it's basically a small division which will focus on the marketing and connecting users around the world with this anime title. So it's still just myself and my very small company, that's just two of us at the moment. Apart from this anime we're doing lots of other things, including another TV program that I'm directing and producing called Culture Japan.

Do you have any other anime plans beyond Chinka?

We're just focusing on that for now. But there might be other developments in the future as well.

Do you have a favorite character in Chinka, besides your mascot Mirai-chan, of course?

Hmm... I think they're all really sweet. I think Chinka herself is a cute character, and I love those bells that she has in her hair. So she's a favorite of mine.

As you've released information about the show you've been careful to provide information in English as well as Japanese-- everything except for the production blog, but you do this on your regular blog as well. Is this your effort to promote Chinka to an English audience or is it just your preferred way of doing things?

I think as we start the actual production then we'll be able to disseminate more information in English and Japanese at the same time, but the focus right now is on getting the teams together and start producing before we actually start talking about it.

So where exactly in the production phase are you right now?

We're forming the members who will work on the production right now, as we speak.

You're generally pretty pro-moe on your site. How do you respond to the anime fans who feel that moe anime is somehow detrimental to the anime industry or is stagnating the industry's creativity? Do you think there's any truth to that?

I think that...being anime, it has such a wide audience around the world. It's just like Hollywood films; there's action movies, there's motivational movies, a big title like Transformers comes out, "urrrgh, what's that crap," and it's like...I think it's really up to the producer and the creators to create what they want to create, and it's up to the consumers to choose whether they want to consume that content or whether not to. I mean, unless they're being forced at point-blank range to watch an anime title, I think they have the decision basically not to watch it if they don't like it. If you don't like tomatoes, don't eat it, if you don't like Transformers or the latest Iron Man 2, which I thought was great, don't watch it, basically. There's definitely enough room for lots of different creators to create what they want to create, because ultimately at the end of the day it's the way they use their own money. It's not as if they're using taxpayer's money to make a title. If that was the case then I think complaining about it would be just, but complaining about how other people spend their money seems a bit odd to me. I definitely think there's room for a lot of different fields to be creative. At the end of the day, anime is just the way for an animator or producer to tell a story or portray a message through illustrations, and it's really up to the creators who do so, I think.

Don't you think companies in Japan decide to make some shows because they think they'll make money rather than because they have any real merit?

There are lots of different studios, and many of them have their own different missions as a studio. There are going to be studios that say, "I want to tell this new story, which tells this sort of message." But then there are going to be folks who say "we need to get something out there" which is basically anything that makes money. Anime titles do require a lot of money to make, working on Chinka, I know the costs involved, and it's like millions and millions of yen, it's not small money at all. Considering that DVDs...they won't make enough money to cover the production at all. I think it's really up to the producers to get stuff out there. Look at these products for example [gesturing at iPad], I call this revolutionary, but there are going to be other companies that change one letter over here, and they want to sell it just to make money, not because they want to release something revolutionary. It's the way society is at the moment, and I think it's going to be difficult to get around that.

Tokyo recently voted down a bill to ban lolicon materials, and another proposal is already in the works; Osaka has had its "harmful books" classification for some time. How do you feel about these laws?

I think when you hear about these things it's usually just one person in a particular party who puts together some sort of proposal and they try to get momentum from supporters. I think that whenever there is something - anything - that's popular or has particular popularity, there will be folks who want to get rid of it. Here's one example: there's an American base set up in Okinawa, and then the president who is... the guy who is running... it was election time, and he said "if you vote for me I'm going to get rid of this, I'm going to get rid of these Americans" and everyone said "yes yes, let's vote for him". Ultimately he wasn't able to do it and he resigned. So I think that if a certain party or particular group can gain momentum to do something, then they'll go do something because they want that support and that attention. I don't think they do it because they actually feel strongly about it, it's more about gaining momentum for their own careers.

It does sometimes look from an outsider's perspective as though the Japanese government is trying to clean up anime and manga, perhaps to make it more viable as a mainstream global product. Do you think there's any truth to that?

With the folks I'm working with of late, which include the Japanese government - which I haven't announced yet - I'll be working with them to encourage folks to come to Japan and disseminate Japanese pop culture through anime and through manga as well. That hasn't come up in any of the meetings I've had. There was one group who does work for the Japanese government, and they have done some work for a bishoujo game. So from what I see, I don't see any truth to that.

Do you think that such mainstream popularity for anime and manga is possible?

I think it is. In this day and age, with the Internet...when I was younger, to get hold of information I had to go to a bookstore or come to Japan to get hold of stuff. But with the Internet and with more widely-available broadband access, more people can touch into that content and discover Japanese pop culture and anime and manga, and I think there need to be folks who let people know how cool anime and manga is, and hopefully they'll discover something that they would enjoy and want to consume.

Do you have any other messages to pass on to people in the United States about Chinka or yourself?

I think one of my main goals in life is to connect like-minded folks with other like-minded folks. For example, I think Anime News Network with its forums is a fantastic place for people who love anime, where they can share their ideas and meet other folks as well, so I think folks out there utilizing sites like Anime News Network do so to basically enrich their lives, which would lead on to new opportunities and who knows what, so, um...check Anime News Network out!

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